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Paris celebrates Notre Dame's 850th anniversary

Yoan Valat / EPA

Priests celebrate Notre Dame Cathedral's 850th anniversary in Paris, Dec. 12, 2012.

Patrick Kovarick / AFP - Getty Images

Archbishop Andre Vingt-Trois leads a Pontifical Mass during Notre Dame Cathedral's 850th anniversary in Paris, Dec. 12.

Associated Press reports — Dignitaries, tourists and Parisians gathered in the thousands Wednesday for a ceremony and Mass marking the beginning of year-long commemoration of Notre Dame Cathedral's 850th anniversary.

The 12th-century Gothic cathedral looming over the heart of the French capital will get a set of new bells in February, one of the highlights of a year's worth of planned events including seminars, concerts of sacred music and the issuance of commemorative stamps.

Archbishop Andre Vingt-Trois and Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe are among the civil and religious dignitaries taking part in Wednesday evening events marking the beginning of the cathedral's construction in 1163.

After the Mass, French Interior Minister Manuel Valls spoke in front of the huge wooden doors of the cathedral's Portal of the Last Judgment.

Noting that the cathedral had survived the reigns of "80 kings, two emperors and five republics," Valls said the cathedral's 850th anniversary "is moving for all who see in its towers the image of France in all its greatness."

Each year the cathedral sees 14 million visitors. Five Masses a day are held during the week, and seven on Sunday. The structure took nearly 90 years to build.

Yoan Valat / EPA

Priests take part in Notre Dame Cathedral's 850th anniversary ceremony in Paris, Dec. 12.

Yoan Valat / EPA

Priests celebrate Notre Dame Cathedral's 850th anniversary ceremony in Paris, Dec. 12.

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